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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Harrison gets life without parole

    Galareka Harrison wipes her eyes as she is led out of the courtroom following her sentencing in Pima County Superior Court on Tuesday. Harrison was sentenced to life in prison for the stabbing death of her roommate Mia Henderson in a UA dorm room last year.
    Galareka Harrison wipes her eyes as she is led out of the courtroom following her sentencing in Pima County Superior Court on Tuesday. Harrison was sentenced to life in prison for the stabbing death of her roommate Mia Henderson in a UA dorm room last year.

    Former UA student Galareka Harrison was sentenced Tuesday to natural life in prison without parole. The sentencing came 14 months after Harrison stabbed her roommate, Mia Henderson, to death in Graham-Greenlee Residence Hall on Sept. 5, 2007.

    Harrison was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder as well as three counts of forgery and one count of identity theft Sept. 19.

    Warner sentenced Harrison to two and a half years for each count of forgery and identity theft, to be served concurrently.

    Before sentencing Harrison, Pima County Superior Court Judge Nanette Warner looked her in the eye and said, “”You killed her.”” She said there was nothing Harrison could do for the Henderson family to erase their loss or give their daughter back.

    When Harrison was given the chance to provide a statement, defense attorney John O’Brien spoke for her, saying she was too overwhelmed to speak. But Warner said she wanted to hear the refusal to comment from Harrison herself.

    After a few minutes of silence, Harrison spoke slowly and quietly, attempting to string words into a sentence. “”I just want everybody to know that – that we all suffer,”” she said.

    “”There are no winners here,”” O’Brien said during his presentation to the court. “”Both sides have lost beautiful young women.””

    Though he has been practicing law for more than 25 years, according to local government documents, prosecutor Rick Unklesbay said he “”can’t remember a case where the depth of pain has been as great. It’s beyond description what happened.””

    O’Brien opened his presentation by saying, “”I don’t know how to quantify the variables in this calculus of pain.”” He went on to say that there is no right answer in this case.

    As to why Harrison killed Henderson, Unklesbay said, “”I don’t think there is an answer.””

    Unklesbay spent the majority of his presentation to the court explaining the effect Henderson’s death had.

    “”Mia’s death had a ripple on extended family and the nation itself,”” he said, referring to the Navajo Nation, of which Henderson was a part. He also said her death affected the UA community.

    Harrison is aware of the ripples she has caused, O’Brien said.

    After 14 months behind bars, she is “”well, well aware of what she has done,”” O’Brien said. “”She isn’t the same person she is today that she was last August/September. She won’t be the same person in 25 years.””

    O’Brien asked the judge to grant Harrison eligibility for parole after 25 years, calling it a “”strict, hard sentence tempered by a bit of mercy.””

    He said after a quarter of a decade, the Pima County Corrections Bureau would assess Harrison’s life to see what she has become.

    Calling Harrison’s case a tragedy, O’Brien said Harrison was “”a young woman who had every bit of promise as any young woman – just as much promise, just as many goals, just as many aspirations.””

    Unklesbay mentioned what Henderson had already become and what she could have been.

    “”This young woman had such great potential,”” he said. “”She was clearly a remarkable young woman.””

    Henderson worked in a genetics lab and had hoped to go to medical school before returning to the Navajo Nation to help her people, Unklesbay said.

    Unklesbay told the court that this case went “”far beyond the usual murder case.””

    He said people often ask if they should be afraid. The response is that unless they are involved in drugs, gangs or violent relationships, Tucson is “”a pretty safe town to live in,”” he said.

    “”Then once in a while, you get a murder like this,”” Unklesbay said. Henderson “”came to school here, lived on campus and her parents undoubtedly thought it one of the safest places she could be.””

    O’Brien cited stressors, such as previous bad decisions Harrison made, as having something to do with the murder.

    In late August, Henderson suspected Harrison had stolen her CatCard and Social Security card. O’Brien said Harrison could have been subject to sanctions by the university for theft and expulsion from university housing.

    Harrison tried to apologize, tried to change rooms and asked what she could do, O’Brien said. She felt as if she was at the “”bottom of a well with the light becoming smaller and smaller at the top,”” O’Brien said, explaining that Harrison did not feel comfortable or welcome. “”We can infer that has an impact on how relationships form … things that spiral terribly and tragically out of control.””

    Unklesbay said that in a psychiatric evaluation received Monday, the doctor said there was no pre-existing disorder that might lead Harrison to commit such a crime. The report did suggest, however, that stressors led her to do something she might not have done otherwise, Unklesbay said.

    On the murder, Harrison was not acting under the stress of college life – she had planned it out, Unklesbay said.

    “”She had plenty of opportunities not to kill Mia,”” he said. “”Her decision was not to own up to what had happened there. She went out and bought a butcher knife.

    “”I can’t believe, as the doctor suggested, it was the stressors of leaving home, the pressures she was facing,”” Unklesbay said.

    Regardless of what led to the murder, O’Brien said he hoped the judge would grant parole, which would “”recognize that though evil can act in this world, redemption still exists; people can atone and become who they wish to be.””

    Once Warner had announced Harrison’s sentence of life in prison without parole, Unklesbay said he was “”pleased with the court sentencing due to the nature of the crime.

    “”Miss Harrison will never get out of prison and won’t be a danger,”” Unklesbay said, continuing to say Henderson’s family is “”relieved it’s over.””

    Henderson was an “”innocent young woman who was remarkable in every respect,”” Unklesbay said. “”This goes beyond affecting just her family. She was going to be a star in the (Navajo) Nation.””

    Warner said she heard throughout the trial that “”‘we don’t really know what happened in that room that night.’ I think I have a very good idea.””

    Warner said there was a lot of reference to forgiveness in the hearing on Monday. She continued, “”Forgiveness is a Navajo way. Stealing is not a Navajo way, murder is not a Navajo way.””

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